There were lots of smart, unique musical ideas within each song that fully achieved the intent of being fun within an approachable atmosphere, having an exceptionally strong harmonic language and unique, well-balanced instrumentation, yet there was little room given to the group’s more genuine and fearless nature despite the overall strong songwriting.
On a personal note, it was wonderful to be able to experience the end result of an ongoing, collaborative project from five of my talented friends and colleagues. Having gone through similar musical education with all of them and seeing them work on their craft in a classroom setting, I delighted in listening to how they took their knowledge, influences, and camaraderie to create a substantial work like this. It was even more delightful that they had full command of their attempted style, being one that emphasized fun and enjoying the moment within a grounded, approachable atmosphere. One look at the long list of instrumentation used on this album may throw some listeners for a loop, which is all the more reason why the music industry should stop categorizing music based on sound or any preconceived ideas about instrumental tactics. Timbral experimentation did have a nice subtle role within the work, but the Red Scarves made it clear that it was their personal and tight-knit songwriting that would carry the weight of musical worth, and overall it was quite strong.
The group’s greatest achievement as a whole was the harmonic progressions that had a restless, energetic quality to them and constantly found ways to ignite the structure. The use of borrowed chords was exceptionally strong, especially the multitude of secondary dominants while still staying in the same key. This was evident in the songs “To the Moon and Back” and “Voyager”. These gave subtle but new dimensions of emotion to otherwise strictly uplifting songs, and provided nice substitutes for other more mundane and overused progressions while still achieving a recognizable feel. There may not have been a whole lot of strong rhythmic engagement on the surface, aside from the song “Through the Trees”, but the harmonic language was delivered very well.
The melodies followed suit nicely and were always very congenial with the harmonic layer, further outlining the direction and pull of each song. Most lines had enough movement and separation within the texture to be memorable, which fully brought out the fun and light intent. However, there always seemed to be a boundary to them that they wouldn’t cross, as they were possibly crafted with vocal range and harmonic conveyance in mind over an individual, emotional drive. Still, they accentuated the mood and really fit in with the overall intelligence and sensibility of the work. The height of success within these songwriting tactics and delivery was reached in the song “Live and Let Love”, being the best example of the emotion and atmosphere that the music seemed to be working towards, topped off with an excellent melody driven chorus.
In order to achieve the grounded, accessible feel, the sound rightfully stayed balanced and easy. It was certainly a balancing act to make sure each textural layer came across and yet allow the melodic layer to dominate, and with all of the moving parts here the decisions in dynamics, builds, and emphasis was quite well done. The most impressive aspect about the sound as a whole was that it stayed very understandable yet had great personality of its own in the unique instrumentation. No two songs were very alike in instrumental features, with each finding their own unique way to balance and sound fun. The highlight of this unique balanced sound was the Hammond organ that crept in at timely moments to provide a harmonic foundation as well as a more colorful take on seemingly simple grooves. The one downfall of the timbre actually has to do with the overall goals achieved in the first place. While it did well to be balanced and supportive, the overall ideas about the sound seemed a little too held back and subservient to other elements, and I became convinced that it never needed to be. Looking back at the instrumentation, I wish there had been more room to develop all the unique combinations that could have taken place. Aside from one song mentioned later, timbre was only given space to be fully expressive in a couple of specific pockets, which was perhaps the result of being too wrapped up in intentions. Thankfully, this was still an enjoyable and unique delivery of them.
All that’s been said about delivery of intent, supposed goals, and musical tactics goes out the window in the album’s out-and-out best song, “Lines in the Snow”. Sticking out among the rest, this song put cares aside and didn’t hold back with awesome metric experimentation, grasping melodic lines that drove the music, and unrestricted instrumental textures that broke the small boundaries that had existed throughout the album. Strings, vocals, and percussion freed up to deliver exciting and surprising texture changes. The one element of the song that stayed consistent with the rest of the music was the colorful harmonic language, and that too reached its peak of creativity here. “Lines in the Snow” was the most free and expressive track, which ended up coming off as the most genuine. This band, while succeeding at conventionality through strong songwriting, ultimately succeeded the most through absence of conventions, which could have been more consistent in this work.
A big take away from this album was that there were lots of small, different, and unique ideas within each song. All of them were strong in their own way: a cool 10-second harmonic riff, a section of sonic exploration, a light three-note motive, etc. While it may not have helped the overall cohesion of the work to not settle and fully expand on singular ideas, this was a nice, enjoyable smorgasboard with no wayward or detrimental decisions. Musicality was quite strong here, and while the Red Scarves have room to grow in trusting their more fearless nature, this was an enjoyable album that I recommend to all timeless music lovers.
Melodic Intrigue: 37/50
Harmonic Creativity: 42/50
Timbral Effectiveness: 39/50
Intangible Influence: 13/30
Final Score: 131/180